The Haunting of Sarah Hardy (1989)

Poor Sarah Hardy had the worst funeral ever! I don’t mean the one they had for her. She was too busy faking her death to worry too much about that one. I’m talking about the one that happened 15 years earlier for her beloved father. No doubt that was a downer, but then her crazy mom had to go and ruin a perfectly good mourning buzz by causing multiple scenes!

First she angrily confronted Sarah, raving about how Sarah stole her dad from her and that Sarah always hated her. It all culminated as she shouted in Sarah’s face to admit it and say it out loud that she hates her mother! Sarah finally does because, well who wouldn’t hate that haranguing harpy? Finally, longtime family employee, Mrs. Stepford takes Sarah out of the room and advises her that mommy is going back to the “clinic.” Dead dad and institutionalized mom, all in the same afternoon! How could this day get any better?

Oh hell no! What was that crashing sound? Did ma just go and jailbreak her way out of the seaside mansion and go sprinting down the shore to the angry ocean? And with Sarah in hot pursuit like some kind of dysfunctional family version of Chariots of Fire! While ma’s body is never found, she easily takes home the gold in crazy!

Back in the present, Sarah has grown from a gawky kid into the sexy Sela Ward. She’s getting married to Austin, a bland hunk that so little is known about that you are instantly suspicious of him before he can even open his mouth.

Also at the wedding are Sarah’s childhood friends, a soap opera star (Morgan Fairchild sporting hair so gigantic, it’s practically a separate character), and her psychologist, Allen, who is easily the creepiest thing in the movie partly due to his grody and unprofessional obsession with Sarah. But mostly because in a movie where there at least 3 or 4 certifiable maniacs of varying degrees, he is clearly the most deranged as he willingly wears the same style of large, ugly eyeglasses he did back when he was a homely child! Oh my god, dude! Who did you piss off at Lenscrafters!

The expected gaslighting of Sarah gets going much earlier then we could have ever hoped as she finds herself flustered by the appearance of a bunch of lilies someone sent to her for her wedding! Those were her mom’s favorite flowers! Quick check the card! Has mom busted out of hell just to place an order at FTD? (Lilies! Lots of lilies! Take that Sarah! Mwahahaha!)

Things get scary though when they check the envelope and there’s no card! Ever scarier still is that someone rightly points out that sending lilies to a wedding is just plain tacky! Egads! Can this marriage be saved? Or will it die a quick, mysterious death like Sarah’s unborn baby does later on in the movie? (Definitely not a spoiler. These sorts of movies pass out miscarriages with the same sort of abandon as they do suspicious servants and kindly doctors.)

The strange occurrences ramp up as Sarah settles into married life whiling living at her family home. She hears the piano being played like her mother did, sees shadowy people, hears her mother’s voice in the house and even gets a phone call from someone pretending to be her mother! But then again, mom’s body was never recovered from the ocean! Could she be alive and intent on terrorizing Sarah to death? Or is this the perfect time to just have a big ass party to celebrate her doomed pregnancy!

The real culprits are revealed and if it isn’t as exciting as the vengeful spirit of her deranged mother, the movie at least gives us enough scuzzy behavior from all involved (Austin banging his mistress in his marital bed the day of the funeral for Sarah, Austin getting blackmailed by the suddenly criminal-minded housekeeper who is outraged that Sarah didn’t leave a will giving her lots of goodies and one bad guy accidentally shooting another bad guy and merely frowning about it are few of the more memorable moments) that you don’t feel compelled to totally give up on it.

If it all feels like it adds up to a not particularly ambitious and style-impaired woman-in-jeopardy TV movie, that’s pretty much what it is. Made to air on the USA Network in 1989, it makes no effort to rise above those humble cable origins. There’s no background or explanation as to why or when the people decided on their scheme against Sarah. It’s just revealed out of nowhere and I still have no idea how these two ever even knew each other in the first place.

Sarah isn’t the strongest character either, portrayed as so vulnerable she comes off as unsympathetic ninny. Some flowers, prank phone call, stuff moved around in the house and she’s ready to believe in ghosts? And if that’s what you really think, why in the hell are you out by yourself chasing after what you think is a dangerous ghost and getting yourself hurt?

Still, it’s easy to overlook some of Sarah’s less attractive attributes because of her more attractive assets on display in a succession of fetching satin nightgowns. Just because you’re increasingly unhinged doesn’t mean you can’t still dress for success in the bedroom! Film ends on a bonus with a twist ending which I still can’t decide whether it made any sense or not!

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